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This massive dam in the Black Canyon of the Colorado River, on the border of Arizona and Nevada, was built between 1931 and 1936, with a large hydroelectric plant generating electricity for many parts of Arizona, California, and Nevada.
Ideas about damming the Colorado River were realized in the early 20th century to solve two problems. The first was that there were regular floods when snow from the Rocky Mountains melted and the rising river levels would cause floods in farming communities; and the second was that a dam could also provide water for the growing city of Los Angeles, and the nearby areas. The major initial problem was that Arizona and Nevada felt that California would probably take up too much water, so the result was the forming of a commission in 1922 with the state governors of Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah, and Wyoming meeting to agree on what became the Colorado River Compact, signed on November 24, 1922. Six years later it was finally approved by Congress, and signed into law by Calvin Coolidge. However the first money set aside by the federal government was not allocated until July 1930 when Herbert Hoover was president. A Congressional Act on February 14, 1931, had made the name Hoover Dam its official name.
The building of the dam coincided with the start of the Great Depression, and the construction schedule was advanced by the government to provide employment, with a new town called Boulder City established nearby. Work then began on diverting the river from its course, to allow for work to begin on the dam. This saw two massive diversion tunnels built, causing the river to change route. On June 6, 1933, work began on the dam itself. As no project of this size had ever been attempted before, there were worries about the stressloading of the concrete. Furthermore, some of the loose rocks on the canyon walls had to be removed in case they fell at a later date. This resulted in men having to scale the rock-face and work in extremely hazardous conditions. In fact, by this time there was massive controversy around the project itself, over its safety record, the low wages for the workers, their poor housing conditions and the lack of facilities for their families.
The dam was completed on March 1, 1936, and by October 26 of the same year was providing energy for Los Angeles. Controversy dogged its name-it was called the Boulder Dam until the death of Franklin Roosevelt, but was renamed the Hoover Dam by Harry S Truman. The dam is 1,244 feet long, and 726.4 feet high, making it the second highest dam in the United States. It contains 4.36 million square yards of concrete, is 660 feet thick at its base, and 45 feet at the crest.
- Andrew J. Dunar and Dennis McBride, Building Hoover Dam: An Oral History of the Great Depression (Twayne Publishers, 1993);
- Joseph Stevens, Hoover Dam: An American Adventure (University of Oklahoma Press, 1988).